Friday, August 23, 2013

Fall Gardening 101

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent


In the fall the weather will begin to cool and the rains will slow down.  (Hard to imagine these days, isn't it?) These conditions present several challenges for the home gardener, but there are some things you can do to prepare your garden (and yourself) for the cooler, drier weather.

If you use annuals in your landscape it may be time to replace some of the summer annuals.  In early fall (Sept.-Oct.) try plants like ageratum, coleus, celosia, zinnia, and wax begonia to give your landscape color into cooler weather.  Then once temperatures start to cool (Oct.-Nov.) you can plat petunia, pansy, snapdragon, dianthus, and alyssum.  When shopping for annuals choose compact plants with healthy leaves, good color, and lots of flower buds (they don’t have to be in bloom at the time of purchase).  For more information about gardening with annuals in Florida:

Since annuals are seasonal they should make up focal areas in the garden, but not too much space, as they require a lot of energy and resources for such a short life-span.   Lots of bulbs like to get their start in these cooler months.  Plant agapanthus, amaryllis, and lilies now for blooms next spring and summer.  Divide and replant perennials and bulbs that have grown too large- be sure to do this by November so they can become established before the weather turns colder.  Add organic matter to new planting areas and monitor water needs during establishment.  For more information about dividing and propagating plants:

Cilantro (Photo-Iowa State University Extension)

Plant herbs that tolerate the warm temperatures of early fall, such as Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.  Later in the fall when the weather is cooler try parsley, cilantro, garlic, and thyme.  Since some herbs are annuals and some are perennials remember to group them accordingly so you won’t be disturbing the perennials when replanting the annuals.  Many herbs are also suited to planting in containers- but you must remember that those plants in containers will dry out faster than those in the ground and will need more irrigation attention.  For more information about growing herbs in your Florida garden:

Cabbage (Photo-Purdue)
In this cooler weather (Oct.-Nov.) you can plant cool-season vegetable crops, such as celery, cabbage, lettuce, collards, and many others.  For more information about vegetable gardening in Florida, including suggested crops and their planting dates:

In September or October, fertilize your citrus with a balanced fertilizer.  Many early season citrus varieties will be ready for harvest starting in October and November, such as ‘Navel’ and ‘Hamlin’ oranges, ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, ‘Orlando’ tangelos, ‘Meyer’ lemons, and more. 

If necessary, fertilize your St. Augustinegrass and bahiagrass lawns with a fertilizer containing at least 50% slow-release nitrogen and no phosphorous in early October.  Do not use a “weed and feed” product.  No lawn and landscape fertilizer containing nitrogen can be used in Pinellas County before October 1st.  (For more info on the Pinellas County Fertilizer ordinance:  As the weather gets cooler the turf will not need as many nutrients so this is best applied in early October. 

Enjoy planning for this cooler season soon to come!

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Could Have it Made in the Shade

During the summer when the heat is stifling, it’s important to take advantage of shade when you are outdoors.  If your yard has no shade trees you may not have much respite from the heat. Shade on your home and air conditioner may also decrease your energy costs in the summer.  With all of these benefits you may be considering planting shade trees on your property.  Planting a tree is a (hopefully) long-term commitment so you want to choose the right tree from the start. 

If you choose an evergreen tree you will have shade year-round while deciduous trees will shade your house in summer but allow the sun to warm your house in winter when they lose their leaves.  You can plant shade trees at any time of year; just be sure to follow UF recommendations for proper planting practices.   To learn more about these practices visit Planting and Establishing Trees at

Pinellas County is unique in several ways- most of us have smaller lots to work with, some have salt breezes from the water to contend with, and we all have wind storms.  You may be wondering what shade trees can we plant here that will thrive in our unique environment?  A favorite shade tree in our county is the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana (large tree, zones 8-11).  Live oak is a great choice but grows very large- up to 40 to 60 feet in height with a 60 to 100 foot spread.  It is drought and salt tolerant as well as wind resistant, which is why it’s a popular choice if you have the room. 

Sparkleberry, Vaccineum arboreum
Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua

If you have a moist but well-drained site and space you could consider Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua (large tree, zones 5b-10a) or Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum (small tree, zones 7-10).  These two choices are deciduous, so they will lose their leaves in winter when you would probably prefer more sun anyway.  Their leaves also turn beautiful colors before they fall bringing seasonal color to your landscape.  Sparkleberry has high wind resistance and sweetgum is considered to have medium-high wind resistance.  Sparkleberry also flowers profusely if grown in full sun.

Silver variety of Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus

For smaller property with drier conditions you might consider the following small trees, all of which are salt and drought tolerant and have high wind resistance: Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus (small tree, zones 10a-11), Simpson’s Stopper, Myrcianthes fragrans (small tree, zones 9-11), and Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria (small tree, zones 7-10).  These three choices are all evergreen and will provide year-round shade.  All three of these choices can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree.  Each of these have unique characteristics that take them beyond a simple shade tree: Buttonwood has a silver variety that has silvery leaves that shimmer in the sun and the wind, Simpson’s Stopper has reddish, flaking showy bark and Yaupon Holly produces beautiful red fruit in the fall and winter on the female plants (males must be present for fruit production). 
Yaupon Holly, Ilex Vomitoria

Yaupon Holly fruit
The right shade tree for you may not be on this short list, but remember to consider size, evergreen vs. deciduous, color, seasonal interest, and match growing conditions to your site conditions for the greatest chance of success.  For more guidance with this and other plant choices in your landscape please visit the interactive plant selector Florida-friendly Plant Database at  For information on the health and maintenance of shade trees please visit:

*Northern Pinellas County is in zone 9b, central and southern Pinellas County is zone 10a.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Be Snake Safe!

By Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension

Coral Snake: venomous (photo

Gardeners spend a lot of time outdoors, which can bring you face to face with wildlife sometimes. The rabbits and squirrels stealing your veggies and tearing up your flower garden may not scare you, but many folks feel less warm and fuzzy about snakes. Did you know that Florida is home to 44 species of native snakes? The good news is that only 6 of them are venomous, which means your chance of being bitten by a venomous snake is very low. Even though you are not likely to get bitten by a venomous snake, it is important to learn how to get long with snakes in the landscape. After all, snakes help to control rodent populations, and we all can appreciate that!

Getting along with snakes is easy- the first step is to learn to identify Florida's 6 venomous snakes, and some common non-venomous snakes. Click here for snake identification information from the University of Florida.  Once you learn to identify some of our snakes you can rest easier when you see the non-venomous visitors in your landscape.

Southern Black Racer: non-venomous (photo

The next step is to prevent snake bites when you working outside. The following is information from the Centers for Disease Control on snake bite prevention (

Preventing Snake Bites

• Do not try to handle any snake.

• Stay away from tall grass and piles of leaves when possible.

• Avoid climbing on rocks or piles of wood where a snake may be hiding.

• Be aware that snakes tend to be active at night and in warm weather.

• Wear boots and long pants when working outdoors.

• Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris.

And finally, if you have the unfortunate experience of being bitten by a snake, you will want to learn a little bit about first aid in that situation. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control on snake bite first aid (

First Aid

• Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services.)

• Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.

• Keep still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom.

• Inform your supervisor.

• Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.

o Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.

o Wash the bite with soap and water.

o Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

Do NOT do any of the following:

• Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.

• Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention.

• Do not apply a tourniquet.

• Do not slash the wound with a knife.

• Do not suck out the venom.

• Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.

• Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.

• Do not drink caffeinated beverages.


Be safe out there!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No love for lovebugs?

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

May and September are prime times for lovebug mating - have they been bugging you? Perhaps you’ve heard the urban legend that they were created by researchers at the University of Florida- not true.

Click here for a great article debunking this myth.

During lovebug mating season there are many adult lovebugs present in some locations. They are attracted to heat and may confuse car exhaust for the smell of decomposing plants that they are attracted to, which is why they are often found in such great numbers near roadways (and car hoods). They are harmless to humans, but be prepared to wash the front of your car a little more often!

Click here to read more about them on our website on lovebugs.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Florida Summer Gardening 101

It’s May and the weather is still pleasant… for now.  Soon we will be battling hot summer sun, bugs, humidity, and torrential rains every afternoon.  These conditions present several challenges for the home gardener, but there are things you can do now to prepare your garden (and yourself) for the heat.
St. Pete Beach Access
       Smart garden planning will give you more time to play here!  Photo courtesy Pinellas County. 
If you use annuals in your landscape you probably know by now that many of them don’t tolerate the Florida heat very well.  Just because a plant is being sold in local garden centers does not necessarily mean it’s the right time to plant them here in Florida.  However, there are several annual plants that take our temps in stride.  They include salvia, torenia, wax begonia, coleus, and ornamental peppers. When shopping for annuals choose compact plants with healthy leaves, good color, and lots of flower buds (they don’t have to be in bloom at the time of purchase).  Click here for more information about gardening with annuals in Florida.

Coleus, photo courtesy UF/IFAS Okeechobee County

Since annuals are seasonal they should make up focal areas in the garden, but not too much space, as they require a lot of energy and resources for such a short life-span.   Right now is also a great time to plan new perennial plantings, including trees, palms, shrubs, and groundcovers.  If you have a plan at the ready you can be prepared to install once the rainy season starts- then you won’t need to water as often yourself.  Just remember that if you plant something before you go on vacation you should ask a friend or neighbor to care for it while you are gone.   
Click here for more information on establishing new trees and shrubs. 

But that’s not all you can do this time of the year.  You can also plant some herbs that like the heat such as basil, Mexican tarragon, and rosemary.  Since some herbs are annuals and some are perennials remember to group them accordingly so you won’t be disturbing the perennials when replanting the annuals.  Many herbs are also suited to planting in containers- but you must remember that those plants in containers will dry out faster than those in the ground and will need more irrigation attention.  Click here for more information about growing herbs in your Florida garden

Southern pea plant
Southern peas, aka black-eye peas, courtesy UF/IFAS Extension
If you think your new herbs might get lonely out there, don’t hesitate to try your hand at vegetable gardening.  But (and this is a biggie) you can’t plant the same veggies in the summer that you can up north.  Our hot temps just won’t work with many of the usual veggies, but there are several crops you can grow here in the heat including okra, southern pea, and sweet potato.  Click here for more information about vegetable gardening in Florida, including suggested crops and their planting dates. 

Summer (June, July and August are great) is also a good time to solarize your vegetable garden, so you can add this to your summer gardening plan.  What does that mean?  Well, this one prep can help reduce soil pests and even kill weed seeds, making your garden more successful throughout the fall gardening season.  Solarizing involves harnessing the heat of the sun by covering the soil with clear plastic and is most effective in the summer months.  To solarize, you want to prepare your soil with any amendments such as compost or manures before you begin.  Make sure your garden is clear of rocks, twigs, weeds, and other debris.  Till the soil to at least 6 inches to make sure the heat will penetrate deeply enough to be effective.   The day after a good rain or irrigation is best for applying the clear plastic sheeting over the soil.  Lay sheets of clear plastic over the soil and bury the edges to keep it in place.  Clear plastic is the only kind that will be effective- do not use black.  Finally, leave plastic in place for at least 6 weeks.  Click here for more info on solarizing your garden,visit “Introduction to Soil Solarization”. 
Trees and Hurricanes
Photo from UF/IFAS "Trees and Hurricanes" website
A discussion of summer garden preps wouldn’t be complete without a mention of hurricane season.  Now is your last chance to prepare for hurricane season by checking trees for damaged or weak branches and prune if needed.  Be sure to hire an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) certified arborist to do this work- they are trained to care for trees and continually participate in ongoing education to maintain this certification.  This can help lengthen the life of your trees and minimize the chance of property damage.  To find a certified arborist near you, visit the ISA website tool to locate a tree professional by clicking here. 
Outdoor thermometerLast, but definitely not least, make sure to watch out for your own health in the heat.  Slow down, dress for summer, do not get too much sun, drink water, do not drink alcoholic beverages, and spend more time in air-conditioned places.  The University of Florida Extension has a great webpage for heat safety that everyone should read before it gets too hot, visit it by clicking here.  Be safe and have a great summer!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Share Your Views

Pinellas County citizens survey opens online and on the go

Got two minutes to help shape the future of Pinellas County?

Residents can take a brief online survey to share their vision about what is good and what needs improvement in Pinellas County. How do people’s priorities align with present realities? What do they want the county to be like in five years?

As the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners continues to set a strategic direction for the community, feedback from the survey will help set priorities that align with the vision of the citizens they serve.

Citizens can take the survey from 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25, to 5 p.m. Friday, March 1.

The survey has gone mobile this year and is accessible at The survey can also be found on the Pinellas County website at

“The online survey is one of the tools we are using during the initial phase of prioritizing for the next year’s budget and as we continue to set long-range strategic direction this feedback will guide us toward a vision the community shares,” said Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala. “It is absolutely necessary to gather this feedback in order to learn the goals of the residents as individuals and then ultimately as a community.”

This is the third year that the county commission has collected input from residents with an online survey. It follows a statistically valid phone survey that was taken during the past month which targeted a cross-section of the county’s residents. The results of both surveys will be posted online once the information is compiled.

Another opportunity to offer feedback and interact with the county commissioners is coming up on Wednesday, April 10, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., when the Pinellas County 2014 Budget Community Forum is held at the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College in the Digitorium. An open house and eTownHall will give officials and residents a chance to talk about budget issues and the future of the community.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit, now with LiveChat, or create a shortcut to on any mobile device. Pinellas County government is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.